‘Nova’s political climate, hot issues, tepid concern

Katherine Silkaitis

Two years ago on one fateful summer morning, the world changed forever. While planes struck and buildings crumbled, countries united and strangers embraced. Battles were fought, prayers were said and the words of an ordinary American citizen rang in the nation’s ears, “Let’s roll.”

As the worldwide campaign against terror marches on, the burning glow of unity, support and remembrance have dimmed. While this light fades across the globe, it flickers on Villanova’s campus, as well.

Now, recovered from the initial shock of Sept. 11, some students do not feel a connection with America’s conflict in Iraq. “I stay aware of what’s going on, I just don’t over consume myself with it,” senior Jonathan Boyer said. “I should just play my part in society and not get worked up about it.”

Boyer is not alone in his philosophy. “[The Iraq situation] should be left alone as much as possible,” sophomore Chris Chamberland said. “I think things have a way of working themselves out. In the end, it will take care of itself.”

Even though Peace and Justice professor Rick Eckstein thinks this mindset is dangerous, he understands it. “People are supposedly interested in these topics, but they don’t know what’s going on,” Eckstein said. “They spend all their time doing schoolwork and they don’t really see the connection between what’s going on in the war and what’s going on in their lives.”

During a much-publicized and internationally anticipated speech, President George Bush recently asked Congress for $87 billion to further the Iraq effort. Many Villanovans were nowhere near their television sets, some choosing not to watch, others unaware that the speech was even being delivered. “Maybe it’s my age,” senior Katie Shipe said. “I’m younger and I feel like maybe if I were an adult, I’d have a little more stake in it. Our generation hasn’t really been through a significant war like our parents and grandparents.”

Some feel that they are no longer aware because, “the war is over.” “In the past two years, a lot more people were attuned to what was going on,” senior Maggie Stotler said. “But, I know now that I have been watching the news a lot less. It kind of seems like it’s dying down … it’s coming to an end.”

International students on campus notice a change in interest, as well. “After September 11, I remember seeing a lot of angry Americans on TV,” freshman and Denmark native Henriette Christensen said. “There were a lot of ‘We will never forget’ stickers. Now it’s just calmer. Bush has taken action. Maybe that’s satisfied [Americans’] craving for revenge.”

Regardless of why people do not tune in, Eckstein feels Villanova should do its part to inform the community. “We should be integrating this huge issue into our curriculum … It’s the faculty and administration’s responsibility to make it more part of people’s educational lives.”

In contrast, there are Villanovans who feel that the campus is very conscious and attentive to the world’s situation. While there might appear to be a lack of discussion or debate on campus, Commander Buck Buchanan of the Villanova ROTC Navy believes it is because students are supportive of the country’s efforts. Therefore, they feel no need to protest. “I think Villanova supports the military,” Buchanan said. “I think [students] are actually in touch and they’re in touch in a supportive manner.”

In response to Buchanan’s views, Eckstein adamantly disagrees. “I think that’s completely wishful thinking,” Eckstein said. “I think people are completely uninformed. When you don’t know what’s going on, that’s when you’re really susceptible to propaganda and to sloganisms.”

Others suggest that dialogue, or even protest, are infrequent on campus because students are trying to “fit in.” “There’s a lot of pressure on this campus to go with the norm,” Shipe said. “Difference is kind of viewed as a bad thing here. So maybe the people that are really against this war feel like they can’t share their opinion or that other people wouldn’t really respond well.”

Understanding these feelings of hesitancy, Eckstein thinks, “Institutionally, [Villanova] can make it more comfortable for people to question official policy. They can lend … institutional support to certain student groups, by having a speaker series and bringing in prominent people, who are if not necessarily against the war, asking questions about the war.”

Chris Russell, a member of Boston University’s international studies program, who recently visited Villanova, said any lack of protest might be a geographical issue. With Boston’s having almost twice as many colleges and universities, as compared to the Philadelphia area, “it’s real easy to find upset schools in Boston,” Russell said.

Villanovans agree with Russell and often refer to his theory as, “the bubble.” “A lot of people are involved in their own lives,” senior Deepa Damodar said. “Thinking outside the box is not happening here. You need to be able to see what’s happening in other parts of the world because one day, it’s going to catch up with you.”

While this “bubble” may exist, Eckstein says it is not solely at Villanova. “Maybe the bubbles are bigger here or there might be more bubbles … I don’t think Villanova draws people who are socially and politically active. It does draw people who are interested in other kinds of service, but that’s different than being politically active.”

Although there are several theories regarding students’ political interest levels, assistant dean of students Ryan Rost said the University welcomes and respects every student’s right to express themselves. An event is permitted as long at it is, “organized, no one violates policy and it’s respectful [both ways],” Rost said.

While protesting, students are not allowed to impose their views on other people. “We would want the other students or staff members to be respectful of [their peer’s] right to protest, demonstrate, or however they want to communicate their displeasure,” Rost added.

As Villanovans admit they are not aware of current events, some are disheartened by this reality. “It’s really disappointing that people are ignorant about the issues,” senior Tara Connington said. “Our society lives in a vacuum, where people can’t remember what happened last week.”